When it comes to any type of meat, you'll often hear a lot about the pros and cons of fresh vs frozen. Pork is no different, with arguments coming from both sides of the equation. But the real question worth asking when looking at the 'differences' between fresh pork and frozen pork is: "Are the differences noteworthy or negligible?"
Fresh vs frozen
On a surface level, the differences between fresh and frozen pork are obvious, and it's these differences that cause many of the discussions regarding which option is better. Fresh, of course, is fresh. It's when the pork is at its newest, most succulent. If eaten within a few days of purchase, you can cook up some truly tender, juicy cuts of pork filled with plenty of flavour. And, obviously, because it isn't frozen, it's ready to cook straight away - no waiting for the pork to thaw out and become soft enough.
Frozen pork, on the other hand (and this applies to many other meats), can concern some people. As it is frozen, there is a tendency to believe the cuts won't be as succulent and flavoursome when finally cooked. However, it is common knowledge that cuts of pork can be frozen for up to approximately three months. This is due to the known fact that freezing meat stops the growth of bacteria and, in turn, allows the meat to keep for far longer than it would in a fridge.
But just how significant is the difference when it comes to cooking fresh vs frozen? Well, it reall isn't that significant at all. It all comes down to to how you approach cooking the pork.
Cooking from frozen
The simple truth is that as long as pork is properly sealed and frozen while it's still fresh, it's going to maintain pretty much all of its original quality. As long as you're not cooking a piece that has been frozen for over three months, there's no reason why your frozen cut can't be cooked to succulent perfection. The problem exists in how people choose to cook a frozen piece of pork.
First of all, if you cook your frozen pork when it's still completely frozen, then this can create issues. You're supposed to let the meat thaw (usually by letting it thaw overnight in the fridge to avoid bacterial growth) so that it returns to a state similar to when you bought it fresh.
Another issue is how the pork is cooked. If you up your stove to the highest heat setting, chances are you'll get a lot of heat, causing the pork to burn and go all tough and stringy - you'll experience a similar outcome doing the same with almost any other type of meat. Once you have the pan up to heat, click it down a few so that your pork is sizzling, but not burning. And remember that covering the pan with a lid not only helps your pork heat through more efficiently and evenly, it also keeps the moisture in.
If for any reason you need to cook a cut that is completely frozen, you'll need to observe the above tips, but potentially pace the cooking even more. You want the pork to cook as evenly as possible. For example, if you cook at too high a temperature, then the outside will cook really quickly while the inside will stay frozen. Ideally, though, you should thaw out your pork in the fridge overnight. This will allow you to avoid many of these issues in the first place.
The key takeaway here is that you can enjoy delicious cuts of pork, whether they're fresh or frozen. It all comes down to knowing how to cook the pork. With a frozen cut, it's a simple case of placing it in the fridge to thaw overnight and then cooking it in the same way you'd cook a fresh cut. Either way, the final product is almost identical and any differences almost entirely negligible.
See also: The Rise of Pulled Pork